Anyone can lead funeral service: for a non-religious funeral service or ceremony, it’s usually a Humanist or independent celebrant.
Just like a faith leader, a celebrant or ‘officiant’ is, in effect an MC, an anchor person, the spokesperson. Humanist and civil celebrants have to be licensed to carry out weddings and civil partnerships but no licence is needed for a funeral; anyone can lead the ceremony – minister, priest, Humanist, independent celebrant, inter-faith minister – or you , your friends and family.
As fewer and fewer people follow a religion, more and more of us are turning to Humanists and celebrants to lead funerals and rites of passage.
Of course there are advantages booking the services of a professional. You get another pair of hands; someone who knows the ropes and someone who isn’t emotionally involved.
Celebrants usually start by meeting or talking to you and any family and friends. They will gather facts and anecdotes about the person who’s died and help you to design the sort of ceremony you want. You can discuss what sort of music, poetry, readings or song you want. They can help with ideas. The celebrant will take your ideas, construct a ceremony and work out timings. You can usually go over plans and tweak them before the day.
Humanists and others can be very busy in the summer with weddings and other ceremonies so you may have to ring round a few to find someone who is free. A funeral director can do this for you as part of the paid-for service.
There are two main groups in the UK with a large membership and a network of celebrants covering the country. They have a secular (non-religious) approach to life so Humanist celebrants won’t include hymns or prayers in ceremonies. They offer training for celebrants.
There are others offering humanist ceremonies working independently. They offer training as well as celebrant and funeral services:
Independent celebrants don’t ascribe to any belief system or associate themselves with a school of thought. They will include faith and non-faith elements in a funeral eg mixing hymns and prayers alongside songs and poems.
Like Humanists, independent celebrants are trained to oversee and deliver ceremonies in a crematorium, at a graveside or other location. They will work with you to create an occasion that is full of meaning.
As well as individual celebrants, here are contacts for organisations representing celebrants.